OPN International Court of Justice
Pro-Palestinian protesters gather near the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as judges hear a request for emergency measures by South Africa to order Israel to stop its military actions in Gaza, in The Hague, Netherlands January 12, 2024 Image Credit: Reuters

“Nobody will stop us”, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, hollered defiantly over the weekend, referring to the ongoing scorched-earth, high-intensity war his military has been waging against Gaza for the last three months.

Wait, not even the US? Come on, why ask? Heck, 24 four hours before American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday last week was one of the deadliest days in Gaza since the start of the war, leaving 250 men, women and children dead.

As Jeremy Scahill put it in the Intercept on Monday: “It has become a macabre ritual for Blinken to feign sorrow for the dead children of Gaza while simultaneously circumventing Congress to expedite the ‘emergency’ shipment of weapons to a government whose public officials and lawmakers have spent the past three months openly declaring their intent to annihilate Gaza as a Palestinian territory”.

Since the outbreak of war, 23,000 Gazans have been killed and well over 60,000 injured, and 78 per cent of homes in the Strip have been destroyed, leaving Gaza a wasteland and its people in a Dantean hellhole with no sheltering refuge from the strange terrors visited upon them, terrors that are, one imagines, so pure, so incomprehensible, so sinister they numb human senses.

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Israel’s casus belli for Gaza war

We’re talking genocide here? That’s what much of the world did over the weekend as pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched across the globe in cities all the way from Kuala Lumpur, Paris and Washington, and from Jakarta, London and Dublin, to mark the 100th day of war in Gaza — the world talked Genocide. Genocide inflicted by Israel on the people of Gaza.

And it did so, most significantly, where the crime of genocide should be adjudicated and its perpetrators held to account — the Criminal Cour of Justice in The Hague, where South Africa had filed charges against Israel for committing this crime of crimes in the war it is waging there.

The term ‘genocide’ may be new, coined soon after the conclusion the Second World War by the United Nations to describe an attempt to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”,

but its perpetration is as old as human history, as old as ancient times when genocidal maniacs walked the earth and felt propelled to employ it for any number of reasons, including vengeance — which is Israel’s casus belli for its Gaza war.

Read more by Fawaz Turki

In their book, Making Sense of the Senseless: Understanding Genocide, historians Daniel Chirst and Jennifer Edwards tell us, as a case in point, about how, during the Gallic Wars between 58 and 50BC, Julias Ceasar, in an effort to wipe out the Eburones — a tribe in northern Gaul that he suspected had betrayed him — from the face of the Earth, had every village and every home in these folks’ territory burnt to the ground and virtually every man, woman and child there killed. Those few who had found a place to hide, he let hide, with the vindictive hope that they would die of hunger in the winter.

Now recall the distinctly genocidal rhetoric Netanyahu used when he met with troops on the front soon after their ground offensive was launched in Gaza. “You must remember what Amalek has done to you”, he said, referencing a verse in the Old Testament. “And we do remember”.

UN agency for Palestinian refugees says South Gaza's pre-war population of 300,000 has now jumped to about 1.2 million as displaced Palestinians seek shelter in overcrowded camps and tents Image Credit: Reuters

Ethnic cleansing of Gaza

And while we’re on the topic, here’s Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, who recently told a TV interviewer that “every school, every mosque, every second house” was allegedly connected to a Hamas tunnel and thus these were fair game for targeting by Israeli air strikes.

Interviewer: That’s an argument for destroying the whole of Gaza, every single building in it.

Hotovely: Do you have another solution?

These statements bookend even more genocidal, more crazed calls by lesser known figures, such as lawmakers in the Knesset and in the now emboldened settler movement, for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza and its settlements by Israeli settlers.

Genocide is a crime we prefer to look at after the fact and judge not while it’s ongoing but in the future, in the light of hindsght, after we are comfortable, or as Rabea Eghbarsia, a human rights attorney completing his doctoral studies at Harvard Law School, put it in a piece in Nation magazine in November, “after the smell of death had dissipated and moral clarity was no longer urgent”.

This, you might wish to agree with me, amounts to no less than moral cowardice, one that, at the end of the day, renders us complicit — for we, as engaged, moral beings, become complicit in that which leaves us indifferent.

And that, at its core, is the message that South Africa, by taking this case to the International court of Justice, is delivering to the world.

We do the country and its people honour, also, if we recognise the courage it took to shoulder that burden.

— Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and author based in Washington DC. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile